Album Review: Black Lips – Arabia Mountain

The Black Lips know how to make fun music, and they know how to make it really well.  This is more evident than ever on their new album, Arabia Mountain, which officially comes out on Tuesday.  After listening to it all week, I’m happy to say that it does meet expectations and is probably their most consistent LP yet.  I base this on the things I now expect to hear from a Black Lips album, such as:

– There will be too many tracks, but luckily each one is two minutes long so it isn’t really a big deal.

–  There will be four or five really great songs, five good songs, and three filler songs that are just too simple or plodding (At least for my ears.)

–  There will be one terrible song I will always skip over, and it will be in the middle of the album just to make me grind my teeth.

– Jared Swilley will write the catchiest songs, and Cole Alexander will write the coolest.  Joe Bradley has been getting better as a songwriter (slowly but surely), and Ian St. Pe usually throws a good song in at some point.

– I will ultimately learn to love the album, despite any apparent flaws.

These, friends, are my basic BL rules, and the band has adhered to them on just about every album.  While Arabia Mountain is no exception, it is more enjoyable as a whole thanks to the members’ growth as songwriters and the help of a producer (surprisingly, Mark Ronson!).  Here’s a track by track breakdown, because I have a lot of free time today:

  1. “Family Tree” (Alexander) – Horns?! Oh yeah, Mark Ronson, I forgot.  I can’t believe the horns work so well, though they don’t hold the song up in any way, which is a good thing.
  2. “Modern Art” (Swilley) – This will be played by the band forever, just like “Bad Kids” before it.  It really is an awesome song, and probably the most mainstream thing the band has done.
  3. “Spidey’s Curse” (Alexander) – I thought the song subject was kind of stupid at first.  Then the song got stuck in my head for three days…  Crap, now it’s stuck in my head again.  Seriously.
  4. “Mad Dog” (Swilley) – Horns again, but this time they’re doing a bit more work for the song.  Still a good song, though not as immediately memorable as the previous three.
  5. “Mr. Driver” (Alexander) – There it is!  The song I (at least currently) can’t stand to listen to.  Something about it just grates me, and I think it’s the “Mr. Driiiivvvveeeerrr” part.  I will say that it’s not as bad as past ‘songs I despise.’
  6. “Bicentennial Man” (Bradley) – This isn’t a bad song at all, but it doesn’t make a lasting impression the way other songs do.  Still, it does stand out when you’re listening to it.
  7. “Go Out and Get It” (Bradley) – Once again, I thought this was childish when I heard it.  Then it got stuck in my head and now I love it.  Does the band do this on purpose?  I think they might…
  8. “Raw Meat” (Alexander) – Is this Wavves?  That whistling tune sounds an awful lot like a standard Nathan Williams ‘ooh-melody.’  Why does it have to be damn catchy?!
  9. Bone Marrow” (Swilley) – A sing-along, though it does build and get better as the song goes on, finally hitting the Beach Boys vibe its melody suggests.
  10. “The Lie” (Bradley) – This track comes close to the earlier Black Lips sound, but it doesn’t sound like it belongs between a sing-along and an early rock ‘n’ roller.
  11. “Time” (St. Pe) – Ian’s contribution is fantastic this time around, and my opinion is that this is the best song he’s written.  A personal favorite for sure, and the song that recaptures my attention.
  12. “Dumpster Dive” (Alexander) – This sounds like a long lost Rolling Stones song, and has that classic Jagger swagger all over it.  Even the lyrics remind me of him.  Awesome.
  13. “New Direction” (Swilley) – Surfy and punchy, this song comes and goes really quick.  It would have been a standout on an earlier album, but sadly gets a bit overlooked by the catchiness of all the other songs.
  14. “Noc-a-Homa” (Swilley) – Another psychedelic tune that has an earlier BL sound to it.  Solid track all around.
  15. “Don’t Mess Up My Baby” (Alexander) – I love this song.  Why it’s so buried in the album, I have no idea.  The chorus is pure gold, and I especially like that you can’t tell which of the two melodies is supposed to be in the foreground.  Once again sounds like early Rolling Stones.  Once again, friggin’ sweet.
  16. “You Keep On Running” (Alexander) – I guess this is the band experimenting?  Or maybe they’re just making noise.  I wouldn’t even call it filler because nothing comes after it, and it seems it’s just there to provide an irritating finish to the album.  The song itself isn’t particularly good, a fact bolstered by its track number.
Overall, the album is filled with hooks, though the band seems like they can’t decide between poppy surf songs and retro garage rock.  I, for one, am offering no complaints to that problem.  The songs each member contributes continue to stay simple, but the production value keeps making it seem like the band is making leaps and strides.  Don’t be fooled though, because the Black Lips are indeed getting better, if only because they are getting older and more refined.  This album is honest, but honest in a way that adults can listen to while the younger fans can jump around them and make their own noise.

One response to “Album Review: Black Lips – Arabia Mountain

  1. Scott Basford

    I love this review.
    I love this review because I relate to it. There are too many tracks, but they are really short so who cares? You can totally tell when it’s a Swilley/Bradley v. Alexander song!
    Spot on man; I feel you, and I think this is also my favorite (at least it seemed you gave it that endorsement above) record of theirs to date.

    But, really, really?? is it “Mr. Driver” you loathe? It’s my outright favorite track initially. When I first heard it, as the 5th track on the album, it put the four–mostly pleasant–preceding tracks in an awesome context and set up, for me, what is the most pleasant third of the record.

    Also, if you purchase the LP, it comes wit ha 7″ with two extra songs. Side 1 is a tad lame in my opinion–called “Wildest Dreams” I think?–but Side 2 is an amazing jaunty romp called “Sing-a-Long,” and I think it’s my favorite jingle out of the whole lot! Can ya guess who might have written it?

    Anyway, cheers–this was fun to read and think about,

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